Growing Student Networks in Order to Expand Opportunities

A few years ago, I found myself at a luncheon with Reid Hoffman, the owner of LinkedIn, as the keynote speaker. He talked about how our education networks open so many doors for professionals in the field. As connected and constant learners, we have huge networks, meeting new people at every conference and professional learning event that we attend. I venture to say that teachers are more connected to other educators than ever before. The opportunity to grow as professionals is at our fingertips now more than ever.

But can we say the same thing for our students? Educators are in a unique position to help students grow their own personal and professional networks, and in doing so, we can expose students to real-life experiences that challenge them to use content covered in a classroom in applicable ways. These experiences are immediately useful because of the content and standards they address, but the networking could prove valuable for years to come. By creating learning opportunities that also grow our students’ networks, we can look at building student achievement and postsecondary success in a new way.

In order to increase individual opportunities for students, educators need to use innovative teaching methods that can meet students where they are academically and challenge them to grow exponentially. In my classroom, this manifests itself as project-based learning. Projects provide a way for me to challenge, engage, and inspire my students. Once they are invested in a project, they become, often unknowingly, invested in attaining skills that can dramatically impact learning outcomes and students’ own goals for their education. Last year, I tasked my students with creating a storytelling event at a local non-profit. Students wrote narratives to perform the night of the event, gathered food donations, and created promotional materials to advertise the event. They learned how to work with members of the greater community, grew their networks, and learned the content-specific skills of narrative writing, informational writing, and argumentative skills.

In another project, I challenged students to research a current social issue and interview a primary source from our community. Students got to speak with local judges, insurance representatives, and local artists among others. The Lexington chief of police even sent his Communications Director to talk with students about their podcasts on police violence. The high-level topics and rigorous research process prepared students to engage with experts in the field. The underlying foundational skills of reading and writing were present at every step of the project, allowing for academic growth to be “hidden” in the learning process.

By designing learning experiences that also serve to connect my students with professional and educational opportunities in their communities, I can do my part to help students become inspired, engaged, and forward-thinking about their postsecondary endeavors. Rigorous and relevant learning opportunities that help students grow their skills and networks are one way that I am able to drive student achievement and improve outcomes through my classroom.

Kari Patrick currently teaches English Language Arts at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington, KY. Kari has taught in both rural and urban schools across the state and was named the 2016 Kentucky Council of Teachers of English High School Teacher of the Year. She loves using passion projects in her classroom to spark student interest and inquiry. Kari is passionate about supporting new teachers and elevating the voice of teachers and students in policy creation.